JUSTICE: A Look at one Essential Element of Christ's Teachings

I was raised in a fundamentalist Pentecostal home. My parents were both ordained ministers. They took their religion seriously, and they expected their four children to do so too. We did.

I cannot guess how many sermons I heard about the justice of God -- how unfailing it was, and how right it was. It was a major theme of my father's ministry. I learned that God watched over people to see how "just" they were in their dealings with others, and this helped Him determine his course of actions with those he observed.

Justice was taught to us as a major element of righteousness. If you had respect for one class of people but not for another, you could not call yourself a righteous person, nor even a child of God. All humans were God's creation.

This teaching, I later learned, was an amazing theology for any modern minister (and actually for all ages), but especially for a modern Pentecostal minister, considering that most modern Pentecostals emphasize an undemanding salvation -- a "salvation" prayer accompanied by heavy emphasis on spiritual/emotional experiences.

Hairdos, and dress lengths use to be a really big deal in Pentecostal churches, as were women who wore pants. These trivial elements of righteousness were "easy" replacements for the much more demanding elements of justice, mercy, and humility. (Micah 6:8 -- He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?)

Even these trivial elements are largely gone now. I don't mourn their passing, because they were nonsensical rearrangement of the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic; but I do mourn the near extinction of true righteousness -- justice, mercy, and humility. I applaud my parents for their teaching true righteousness.

When I left home for college I quickly discovered that my personal belief, that God expects justice in my dealings with all others, was not widely held in other churches, nor in the general public. Later I learned that it is not truly adhered to in our American legal system.

The fact that the wealthy avoid prison for the same deeds that regularly send poorer person to prison is self obvious. You need no examples because you have your own already. Poor men go to prison for writing bad checks; whereas CEOs of the biggest banks sign documents that defraud investors of billions, and they get mild hand slaps, get no prison time, and get to keep their bonuses.

This is not the "equal justice for all" that we pledge allegiance to. I won't belabor that point, because our lack-of-justice problem runs far deeper than how the rich are treated versus how the poor are treated.

Just one quick example of one deeper problem: The entire concept of "informed decision" in contract law stands on a moral foundation of quicksand. People with IQs of 170 or higher are hired to write contracts that will mostly fool people with IQs of 100 and below (and will fool many persons with higher IQs too), and our courts pretend that a signature signing away all a customer's rights is justice, that their signature constitutes "informed decision," and our courts hold these "victims" to the contract. No one can convince me that our Supreme Court justices don't know that many of these contracts are downright predatory -- smart crooks preying on the widows, the fatherless, the less mentally endowed.

In contrast, a corporation can enter into a contract, and then legally go back and demand a renegotiation of that contract based on "a downturn in business" or "unforeseen business eventualities." Recourses not afforded to individuals who clearly are incapable of understanding the contracts they sign. So much for modern U.S. justice. It is now simply a legal system, not a justice system.

I could provide scores of examples, but it seems to me a waste of time. Either you have already seen and know what I'm talking about, or you haven't. If you haven't seen it, and if you couldn't write the scores of examples yourself, then my reiteration of them would have no more effect on you than the actual events have had.

If you understand that we do not have equal justice for all, then read on. If you don't, then you might as well stop reading here, because you don't see the problem, and won't see the need for a solution (because you are part of the problem).

In the movie depicting Olympic gold-medalist gymnast Nadia Komanichi's life and career, there is a scene in which her coach is speaking to a female Communist Party Member designated to oversee Nadia. The coach says to the Party Member that he is not asking for anything special, all he wants "is what is fair." The Party Member responds to him that "in this World to ask for what is fair is indeed to ask for something special." It is a scene that strongly resonated with my observations.

Despite my understanding that justice is not equally available to everyone in America, I continue to believe that "equal justice for all" is a foundational aspect of good Christian doctrine, rule of law, and democracy. Loss of this foundation corrupts religion, law, and government. My parents got this aspect of their religion exactly right, and I still believe it today as fervently as I did while listening to my father minister over 60 years ago.

I stand amazed that the churches of America are not resounding with the call for restoration of justice in America. Our legal system is not a justice system. It is a lie to say it is. There can be a huge difference between law and justice. In an ideal legal system there would be no difference in outcomes for the rich, the poor, the president, or the local street bum; but in our legal system the differences are huge. As you read this, our current Supreme Court is working hard to allow the government and corporations to circumvent Constitutional rights of citizens to trial by jury.

The fault lies not with our government. It lies with our churches, our ministers. Today's churches teach that our government is the enemy of our Christian religion, which is disingenuous in the extreme. What is is what we have permitted. We are the problem.

Our churches want our government to allow prayer in schools, which violates separation of church and state; but they are totally silent on justice -- which is essential to both church and state.

Today's churches want to stop abortions, which violates separation of church and state; but they are totally silent on justice -- which is essential to both church and state. Our churches are not trying to restore righteousness. They are trying to further their personal agenda/beliefs through the agency of our government.

Our government has worked tirelessly to prevent any single religion from imposing its beliefs on any other religious groups; and for this, they are labeled the enemy of Christianity? It is the Churches who want to violate the US Constitution, not our government. And the religious leaders will not see that their insistence on religious symbols in our government is a grave injustice to all other religions, and to their own in the long run.

The Golden Rule is something our church leaders (and we) ignore, until it is our rights that we feel are being impinged. Then the Rule is hailed loudly -- but for that instance only. Our churches don't want justice; they just want what they want.

So, regarding justice for all, my parents got it right, and it has stuck with me as an uncompromising precept. If I wouldn't like it being done to me, then it is wrong to do it to someone else, no matter what their social status. Being a "respecter of persons" is still a huge "no no" for me. In fact, I like the saying, "I'm a snob's snob; I look down on people who look down on people."

Don't get me wrong; I don't love everyone. There are some people who are sociopathic, and prey on others just for the fun of it. I don't love these people. I despise them. But, 19 out of 20 people, on average, are not sociopathic, and are basically just normal people trying to get along. I won't call them good, but they're mostly not bad. Selfish, perhaps, but they mostly simply want to live as good a life as they can with as little hassle as possible. They deserve to be treated by the legal system as full-fledged humans, worthy of self dignity, and worthy of the same protection under the law as is afforded to a President, to Congress, to a CEO, or to a Judge. They do not deserve to be treated unjustly because of their station in life.

Our modern churches wonder why they are closing their doors for lack of membership. If they would once again began to champion the one thing that made America great -- equal justice for all -- and perhaps throw in mercy, and humility for good measure -- they'd be packed. As long as they insist on getting the government to force others to behave as they wish, they'll continue to be seen as the problem instead of the solution.

But they won't. Why? Because we want what we're getting: easy religion, socialization among like people who want a way to feel good about ourselves without much effort, and with extreme spiritual indifference. Are our church members evil? No. But neither are we lights shining on a hill.

There is a saying popular amongst Christians today, "WWJD -- What would Jesus Do?" The answer is easy: he'd rebuke us just like he did the self-righteous of his day. The weighty matters of righteousness are not hidden, but we have systematically substituted cheap, easy substitutes -- like praying over our meals in public places, so everyone observing knows we are special.

But, we have gone far beyond the cheesy substitution; our churches now actively teach principles entirely contrary to the teachings and commission of Jesus. The churches now teach that wealth is the outward sign of God's blessing upon us. Jesus put no emphasis on wealth, in fact he warned about how difficult it was for the rich to attain to the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus put great emphasis on the Golden Rule, love for one's enemies, going the second mile, giving a cup of water in his name, to the least of one's brethren. How far we have departed from pure and undefiled religion. And who cares? Do you?

-- mof, 7-12-2013

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